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After reading this summary of the “Save the Boats” Project, please consider making a donation
to this worthy effort

In 2003, the Grand Canyon National Park Foundation – in collaboration with the National Park Service, the Colorado River Fund, the river-running community and private citizens – embarked on an ambitious, multi-year effort to conserve these historic boats, and preserve this important part of the history of the Grand Canyon
and the Colorado Plateau.

Ellsworth and Emery Kolb
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb with the historic boats, the Defiance and the Edith. 1911
(Photo credit: NAU Cline Library, Special Collection NAU. PH. 568-5787)

Boat Conservation

1. Boats at the South Rim: Among its collection of cultural and historical artifacts, Grand Canyon National Park (NPS) possesses fifteen original watercraft that carried intrepid adventurers down the rapids of the Colorado River as early as 1909. Together these boats constitute the backbone of the Canyon’s history of river exploration and recreational use of the Colorado River. Unfortunately due to budgetary constraints, the boat collection moldered in the outdoor courtyard of the former park visitor center for more than forty years.

In 2003 the NPS and the Grand Canyon National Park Foundation (GCNPF) – in collaboration with the Northern Arizona river-running community, historians and volunteers – embarked on an ambitious, multi-year effort to conserve all fifteen historic boats in the NPS collection, and preserve this important legacy of Grand Canyon history and the Colorado Plateau.
Conservation of the park’s collection of historic watercraft is now well underway; this summary will review our recent accomplishments and will share visions for our rich cultural heritage.

On July 23, 2003 NPS, GCNPF, GCNPF’s Advisory Committee (AC) of river community members, the Colorado River Fund (CRF), and volunteers moved three boats from the outdoor display area at the park’s Administrative Headquarters (formerly the park’s visitor center) to a newly established indoor conservation workshop within Grand Canyon National Park.

The relocated boats include:

  • The Stone Boat - used on a trip sponsored by Julius Stone in 1909 from Green River, Wyoming to Needles, California.
  • The Edith - a white cedar and oak-hulled boat named for Emery Kolb’s daughter, and used by Emery and Ellsworth Kolb to film their adventure on the Colorado River in 1911 and 1912.
  • The Glen - a wooden Galloway boat used on the 1921 – 1923 U.S. Geological Survey expedition guided by head boatman, Emery Kolb
NPS, GCNPF, AC, CRF and volunteers moving the Edith from the courtyard
NPS, GCNPF, AC, CRF and volunteers moving the Edith from the courtyard
NPS, GCNPF, AC, CRF and volunteers moving the Edith from the courtyard. July 2003.
(Photo credits: Dave Edwards)

In December 2003 NPS relocated four of the smaller boats and kayaks into the Science Center Warehouse (Walter Kirschbaum’s kayak; Alexander “Zee” Grant’s foldboat, the Escalante; Dock Marston’s sportyak, the Dock; and Georgie White’s neoprene raft, the Georgie).

On Tuesday, June 8, 2004 the sane partners involved in the July 23, 2003 event came together again to move the three remaining historic boats still located in a courtyard. Due to the width of the boats, the Administrative Headquarters building’s front glass panels and doors were temporarily removed. Once the building’s facade was open, partners then hoisted the WEN, the Esmeralda, and the Music Temple onto new heavy-duty, padded cradles; rolled them out of the courtyard/building and transported them to the Science Center warehouse. (Brad Dimock, a long-time river runner, historian, and author, designed and crafted the new customized cradles.)

  • The Esmeralda - designed and built by Ed Hudson, the first powerboat to run the Grand Canyon in 1949.
  • The WEN - a cataract boat built and used by Norm Nevills on seven Grand Canyon river trips between 1938 and 1949. The boat and her sister vessels, the Mexican Hat and Botany, were used on the 1938 trip that included the first women to run the river, two botanists Dr. Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter.
  • The Music Temple - a classic dory based upon the McKenzie river hull design, originally owned by river historian P.T. Reilly and later by Martin Litton. One of the two dories to travel through the canyon emerging at Grand Wash in July of 1962.
The Esmeralda
From left to right, Kim Besom, Supt. Joe Alston,
Gaylord Staveley, Greg Reiff wheel the WEN
out of the Administrative Building.
(Photo credit: Dave Edwards)
The Esmeralda is hoisted up and onto her new cradle.
(Photo credit: Faith Chaney)

Currently, the entire collection on the South Rim is being cleaned, evaluated and conserved so that the public can once again enjoy these boats and their histories on the Colorado River.

The Stone Boat, the Glen, Edith, WEN, Esmeralda, and Music Temple have taken on a new look. Despite their outdoor display and lack of attention for over 40 years, all of the boats are in good structural condition. Since July 2003 the NPS has documented, photographed, dry cleaned and treated the surfaces of the collection. The surface treatments consisted of meticulously dry sponging the boats’ stable surfaces (primarily the canvas top areas,) vacuuming the interior areas, and carefully removing foreign materials that had collected over the years. NPS has also drafted Conservation Assessment reports for a majority of the craft.

The NPS will initiate conservation treatments in 2005. Before beginning these efforts, Jonathan Taggart, a national expert in wooden boat restoration, and Anne Witty, a curator of museums with small boat collections, visited the historic boats at the South Rim in March. They reviewed and approved the proposed Conservation Treatment recommendations with the NPS staff. Mr. Taggart and Ms. Witty will continue to consult with the NPS during the entire conservation effort. Also, NPS will provide protective boat covers and a storage racking system in 2005.

The Edith
In 2004 NPS conservator, Brynn Bender, cleaning and preserving the Edith
(Photo credit: NPS-WACC)

2. Boat in the field: In 2004 the NPS staff evaluated and stabilized the Ross Wheeler on the bank of the Colorado River. In 2005 the project partners will continue discussing the pros and cons of leaving the boat in place or moving it to the South Rim.

Ross Wheeler
Ross Wheeler
(Photo credit: Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

3. Boats in Green River Museum, Green River, Utah: In spring 2005 NPS curators from Utah will do an on-site inspection of these three boats and will begin drafting Conservation Treatment recommendations.

Left to right: Defiance (Ellsworth Kolb's boat, 1911); Mexican Hat (Don Harris's boat,
1938); a Georgie White raft (unknown date) Green River Museum, Green River, Utah.
(Photo credit – NPS)

4. Addition of a new boat: In 2004 Glen Canyon Recreation Area agreed to add a boat to the Grand Canyon collection - the Wee Red from the 1960 Grand Canyon uprun. The boat is in good condition and will be moved to the South Rim in the spring 2005.

Wee Red
The jet boat, Wee Red, plunges down Vulcan Rapid [Lava Falls], Garth Marston at the controls.
(NAU Cline Library. Special Collections. NAU.PH.
Interpretation and Education

1. Brochure: Interpretation of and education about our river running legacy plays a major role in the historic boat project. In 2004 the GCNPF launched a 24- page educational brochure that will be available in the summer of 2005. Brad Dimock is providing the text; the brochures will be available at boat exhibits and will be distributed to private and commercial passengers Colorado River trips.

2. Oral histories: The GCNPF contracted with historian Lew Steiger from Prescott, Arizona to conduct seven oral histories of significant river pilots in the Grand Canyon by January 2006. The histories will be published in the Boatmen’s Quarterly Review and used as interpretive materials in interim exhibits and permanent displays about river running on the Colorado River.

3. Interim boat displays: The GCNPF and NPS have plans for two interim displays during 2005. The first exhibit will be at the Canyon Visitor Interpretive Plaza on the South Rim and will feature one historic boat and relevant educational materials. GCNPF and NPS have not identified an opening date for this display.

The Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA), the NPS and the GCNPF will host the second exhibit. The display materials will include representative samples from the historic boat collection or replica craft. Additional artifacts – such as oars, rigging and camp gear – along with interactive, interpretive tools and images will highlight each boat. The partners will present educational lectures and programs concurrently to compliment the display. Ultimately, NPS and the GCNPF plan to celebrate river running on the Colorado River in a renovated building in Grand Canyon Village with a display of the entire historic boat collection and associated gear and artifacts. The permanent display will interpret the rich history of rivers on the Colorado Plateau.

4. Lines Drawings: Todd Bloch from the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park completed three lines drawings in 2004 bringing the total to four (the Edith, the WEN, the Stone Boat and the Glen). These architectural renderings are now part of the public domain and available through the Grand Canyon Museum collections at a nominal cost to the public.
Lines drawings will provide important archival information related to the construction and, potentially, the repair work done on the boats both during their use and at various points in time after their use. The Colorado River Fund finances this effort.


1. General activities: The GCNPF’s Advisory Committee has taken the lead in promoting this effort to the river community and to the general public by providing updates to each Boatmen’s Quarterly Review issue. GCNPF has presented the project at the 2004 Spring and Fall Guides Training Seminars and had materials at the February Whale Foundation Wing Ding. Look for us wherever twenty or more guides are gathered.


2. Masquerade Ball: The most exciting new event highlighting the “Save the Boats” campaign was the Masquerade Ball at Joe’s Place on Saturday, October 30, 2004. The Foundation and the Advisory Committee hosted this friend-raiser. Donated auction items and the door cover charge brought in more than $8,000. Ellen Tibbetts donated a charming image for posters and publicity. Limbs Akimbo provided great entertainment for a large, enthusiastic crowd. The second annual Masquerade Ball will be held on Saturday, October 29, 2005.

Masquerade Ball
Welcome to the Masquerade Ball!
(Photo credit: Mike Quinn)

Endangered condors
Endangered condors
(Photo credit: Mike Quinn)

Brad Dimock as “Buzz”
Brad Dimock as “Buzz”
(Photo credit: Mike Quinn)

Project Administration

1. Five-Year Plan: The Foundation and the NPS are currently developing a vision and a time line to guide our joint efforts.

Dock Marston in his sportyak, Dock. 1963
Dock Marston in his sportyak, Dock. 1963
(Photo credit: Bill Belnap, NPS collection)

Will you consider making a donation to this worthy effort?
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